How do you measure the performance of someone with a complex pattern of strengths and weaknesses? Do you ignore the weaknesses and focus on the strengths, take an average of both or use some other method? Do you treat them as an individuals or compare them to their peers, who are likely to have a more even profile in terms of performance?
The need for measurement
In many professions we spend our time solving difficult problems and then documenting and codifying how we have achieved that success. This puts structure around what we learned through the initial “creative” process to make it replicable. Then, using the methods, tools and precedents that we have developed, quite complex work can be delegated to people less experienced than ourselves.
Of course, those people have to be carefully chosen, to ensure they have the prerequisite knowledge and skills. This of course allows lots of development opportunities for our people as they move though their careers.
However, it also means that we must put in place a rigorous and ongoing process of evaluating the capability and competence of our staff. Typically, for each “grade” of staff we define “what good looks like” and then measure people against that standard. Being professionals we tend to do that in a fair amount of detail… across the entire spectrum of capabilities that a person could possibly have and naturally, we assume that everyone should have all of these characteristics!
The competency framework
How does this work? This is where competency frameworks come in. They tend to set out the required capability or performance level for a role or grade across a wide range of capabilities (e.g. Leadership, People Management, Technical Skills, Sales Ability, Risk Management, Operational Efficiency etc). Then, the performance of an individual can be measured against that framework so as to highlight strengths and development areas. This is intended to be a very positive process, helping people to understand where to focus their efforts to improve their performance and hence to progress in their careers.
This works well for those with a fairly standard profile, providing a valuable benchmark against which to judge their performance. However, it works much less well for those with non-standard cognitive styles, including dyslexics. We of course tend to have a balance of strengths and weaknesses that diverge from the average. So for some of us, this will include “development areas” that can only partially be mitigated, if at all.
Given that, in common with most organisations, there are relatively few senior roles in professions vs the number of entrants, this process is also linked with performance management and promotion. This in turn means it is important to make relative comparisons between our people, which can exaggerate both the positives and the negatives.
This risks this poses tend to be exaggerated by a number of factors:
Everyone can spot weaknesses: Weaknesses tend to be obvious to most people and competency frameworks risk these being pointed out year after year, regardless of whether the individual has superb compensating strengths. This can be unhelpful.
The exceptional is not visible to everyone: There is a high educational barrier to entry in most professions. So if you have managed to pass the recruitment hurdle the likelihood is that you have exceptional strengths in some areas. Unfortunately, unlike weaknesses, strengths that significantly exceed the average can be difficult to measure as not everyone can see them so they are not always observed.
Less flexibility in junior rolesIn more junior grades, there is usually less flexibility regarding how work is undertaken and less need for the typical compensating strengths that dyslexics often have (e.g. Creativity or lateral thinking). This makes it harder to demonstrate capability or to flex the work to fit your profile.
The strong rarely seek help… so their strength is not seen Those who have significant compensating strengths will often be able to undertake work with a lower level of supervision than others. This means their performance is not observed. This can make gathering evidence to demonstrate competence difficult in some areas.
So what is the conclusion?
As usual I think there is no simple answer. I am not advocating setting a different set of performance standards for dyslexics. However, it is important that competency frameworks are developed in a way that embraces a diversity of cognitive styles – particularly those that result in a pattern of strengths and weaknesses.
Equally, I am not advocating differential treatment through the performance assessment process. However, this process does need to embrace the different characteristics of this group, identify and reward the “highs” as well as identifying and taking a proportionate view regarding the “lows”.
There is no doubt that many organisations strive to achieve this. However, it is not an easy thing to get right and dyslexics should therefore assume at they cary the burden of ensuring that others see their strengths and do not overly dwell on their weaknesses. This is quite a responsibility, and not an easy one to deliver on.
Finally… many of the typical strengths of dyslexics are highly prized within the professions and are almost prerequisites to reach the most senior roles. So, as long as weaknesses can be held in proportion, the outlook for many should be a good one.